JTF (just the facts): Published in 2015 by Ridinghouse (here). Hardcover (roughly 12×9), 270 pages, with 255 color and black and white images. Includes a conversation between the artist and Dawn Ades. (Spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: As digital tools further open up the creative avenues of image reuse, combination, and mashup, it seems likely that the pioneers of photomontage will resurface once again, their work providing meaningful background context and substantial precedents for conceptual and artistic approaches that are now taking a new form. This broad retrospective of imagery by the British artist Linder, covering more than 40 years of her photomontage efforts, provides ample evidence of just how explosive the genre can be, and makes a strong case for her inclusion among Hannah Höch, Grete Stern, Martha Rosler, Barbara Kruger and others in the rarified heights of feminist photomontage.
Much of Linder’s career can be drawn back to a single radical (at the time) insight that she had in the mid 1970s. Looking at any newsstand, it was clear that the magazines had been grouped – fashion, gardening, cooking, interior design, and families etc. under the title of Women’s Interest and cars, sports, music, hunting, and pornography under Men’s Interest. Her lightning strike observation was that the visual vocabularies of these two groups were markedly different (now academically labeled under the headings of the male and female gaze), and that by combining imagery from the separate sections, the interactions might produce something interesting. Some four decades later, that conceptual idea remains haltingly powerful, allowing her to range from the personal to the political, challenging her viewers with increasingly outrageous and thoughtful social and sexual juxtapositions.
Linder’s earliest works introduce some of her signature motifs (nudes in domestic scenes, disembodied lips/mouths, phallic lipstick imagery, new things to buy) with jarring, subversive roughness, as exemplified by a fork in the eye and actual cigarette burns. By 1977, she had begun to hit her stride, her Pretty Girl series replacing the heads of black and white nudes with various domestic objects, creating visual dissonance with exacting precision. Posed on a shag rug, a chaise, or a well-stocked drinks cabinet, the nudes are interrupted by coveted symbols of modern household domesticity (in color) – a washing machine, a coffee pot, an iron, a crockpot, or a vacuum cleaner. Like Laurie Simmons’ Walking Objects from more than a decade later, Linder’s photomontages undermine the male gaze and effectively hijack the original imagery, conflating the competing objects of desire.
Gardening magazines and seed catalogs have provided Linder with some of her most memorable raw material. Lush roses in nearly every shade, seductive orchids, and other exotic blossoms have been excised from their original botanical context and meticulously placed atop everything from soft core female nudes to graceful ballet dancers, covering heads and genitals and reengineering the intended visual signals. She’s also used these same images to interrupt more explicit gay porn and Pierre Molinier’s fetishized montages. In each case, the bountiful symbol of natural femininity audaciously upends the underlying found photograph, smartly rebalancing the prevailing attitude and twisting the modes of attraction.
More recently, Linder has gone even further, starting with hardcore sex images (full of blow jobs and explicit intercourse) and using fragments from cooking magazines (perfect cakes, muffins, cobblers and the like) to confuse the situation and modify the interaction. These works take sensual excess to the logical limit, where eating and sex become confused forms of consumption, a tray of cream filled pastries or a slice of key lime pie a not-so-subtle stand in for the erect penis underneath (that it fails to entirely hide). While it might seem improbable, these extreme images are often indirectly funny – there is a healthy ridiculousness to having a huge slice of rich chocolate cake obscure some overly choreographed sex.
While Linder’s photomontages combining fetish nudes with butterflies, seashells, snakes, and horses create an equally messy mass of swirled uninhibited animal urges, many of her recent projects move away from unabashedly exposed skin, using more mainstream fashion imagery as a starting point. Here she uses matchy-matchy combinations of period furniture and stylish outfits, a 70s era couch or a coffee table merging seamlessly into the entire groovy ensemble. Another project done in conjunction with Dior pairs vintage black and white fashion photographs with sparkling up close jewelry, the clusters of diamonds and rare colored stones matching the scale of the classic looks, like glamorous sparkling sashes or ostentatious hats.
What makes Linder’s photomontages so successful is that they consistently find their way to the edge of exaggerated absurdity, where the contrasts she has set up expose opposing gender perspectives. The best of her work turns the everyday into the audaciously surreal, where the objects of our desire (both male and female) are confused and intermingled to the point where we are forced to realize the embedded stereotypes and roles they carry. In her artistic world, daring visual contradictions offer a streamlined mode of inventive commentary, delivering a stinging dose of incisive social and cultural critique.
Collector’s POV: Linder is represented by Stuart Shave/Modern Art in London (here) and Blum & Poe in Los Angeles/New York (here). Her work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.